Do you allow Jesus, the justification for all, to stand in opposition to what condemns you? How do you deal with either an inferiority or superiority complex?
Galatians 2:11-16: But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
The other day, Sarah and I took our kids to the Disney play area at the Menlo Park Mall. Our new family pastor’s wife, Jenna, joined us with her kids as well.
As soon I entered, I noticed another dad there with his kids. This six-foot four-inches mountain of a man was wearing short shorts, and his thighs were massive.
Now, I don’t know if you’ve noticed these chicken legs of mine, but I immediately felt inferior and thought, “That’s just too much.”
Kidding aside, we all hold prejudice against others for one reason or another. It could be as simple as the guy at the mall. I am sure he worked hard to have those thighs. I know that because I hate leg work, but I couldn’t help but judge him.
Prejudice, by definition, is a pre-conceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience. In my experience, sometimes prejudice comes from a superiority complex and other times from an inferiority complex.
Here in Galatians, we see this prejudice in the early church almost every time Jews and Gentiles came together. Each time Jewishness was presented as the key to being saved, a false sense of Jewish superiority to Gentile believers came with it.
In this passage, whether it was intentional or not on Peter’s part, his prejudice showed in his treatment of Gentile believers. It would have created a false sense in them of being inferior to Jewish background believers. Paul’s argument is against this baseless prejudice against Gentile believers that created an inferiority complex in them.
Do you ever feel that someone else is a much better Christian than you? Do you wish, “If only I could be like them?” Or perhaps someone has made you feel like you are not really a Christian because you do not follow their prescribed ethical code. That is an inferiority complex, and this message is for you.
If you feel that you are a better Christian than others and that they should be more like you, my friend, this sermon is for you too, because that is a superiority complex. Our text argues that what you eat or do not eat is not something that saves anybody, nor does any ethical or moral code justify you before God.
Personally, I do not eat pork, simply because of the way I was brought up in a Muslim country. I do not drink either, again because in Pakistan culturally I was never exposed to it, so I never developed a taste for it. However, if I eat pork or drink wine, will that take away my salvation? No, it would not, because Jesus is my justification. He saved me.
Any prejudice toward others in the house of God is against Scripture if it develops a sense of superiority in us and subjects others to inferiority. So, what is the solution to the problem of prejudice that makes us superior and others inferior and vice versa?
There is only one solution, the truth of the Gospel of grace that Jesus is the justification for all. We need to learn to lean on Jesus’s justification in all situations and not our own justification based on good works and ethical code.
Here are three reasons why.
First, we need Jesus’s justification because our works cannot change our corrupt minds.
Most sins in our lives are first incarnated in our thoughts before they are revealed in our actions.
Last week, we saw how Peter stood condemned because he showed partiality and prejudice toward fellow Gentile believers based on his Jewishness—the work of the law, and not his justification through faith in Jesus. His example made the Gentile believers feel that they were inferior Christians and probably made Jewish believers feel that they were superior Christians.
When it comes to prejudice against others it is not always intentional. Sometimes, we act in a certain way because we have been brought up in a certain way. A person who is brought up in a religious or legalistic household will hold prejudice toward other believers because they do not fall into their mold. They were trained to think in a certain way because they were indoctrinated with certain content.
Peter as a Jew was brought up with a certain way of thinking. I am sure when he heard that the circumcision party was visiting the Antioch church, he must have thought about his usual practice of eating with Gentiles, and after some consideration, he willfully chose to stop eating with them because of the works of the law.
Galatians 2:6 says God shows no partiality, but Galatians 2:12 says Peter showed partiality. No doubt Peter’s heart was transformed by the Gospel, but his thinking was still off because of the law.
During my first few years of living in the West, I could not shake thinking of how believers could drink and yet call themselves Christians. How could believers eat certain foods and call themselves believers?
My prejudice was based on my false sense of superiority over those who drank wine, lived in a certain way, and wore certain clothes, all of which were due to the fact I was born in Pakistan and raised in a legalistic house.
Still to date, I find myself acting in a different manner when I am in a Muslim setting. Ask my wife, when I go to a Muslim restaurant or grocery shop, I do not hold her hand. She hates it. This is also true when I was among Pakistani believers. This is all cultural.
The text says his “conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel.” Why? Because he was not thinking right. He was thinking about the circumcision party and what they would think of him. Every infidelity in a married relationship, every addiction, and every judgmental attitude starts with thinking. When we fail to shake off those thoughts, we dwell on them, and eventually we act on them.
The good news is that Jesus, the justification for all, is renewing our minds every day, but remember, that is part of our sanctification, do not confuse that with our salvation. But as a way of application, regarding the mind, let us work on submitting our thoughts to the Lord. 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, “take every thought and make it obedient to Christ.”
Second, we need Jesus’s justification because our works cannot change our corrupt hearts.
The only way the heart can be made right is through faith in Jesus Christ. He is our justification before God.
After stating his charge against Peter, Paul introduces the language of justification to draw a sharp division between the works of the law and faith in Christ.
Some scholars believe Peter wanted to keep the peace between the visiting Jewish Christians from Jerusalem and the host Gentile church. Paul on the other hand refused to compromise the Gospel for the sake of peace.
Peter’s intentions may have been right. Perhaps he did not want to offend the visiting Jewish background believers. After all, his eating with Gentile believers could be considered a stumbling block, but then what about the host church—the church of Antioch? What about being a stumbling block to them? Peter’s wrong thinking led to giving in to the corruption of his heart.
Back in Eden, perhaps Eve could have avoided sin if she had spoken to God or Adam. She must have been thinking about the forbidden tree, then Satan came along at just the right time to foster her thinking and caused her heart to deceive her to believe in her own justification, which resulted in the fall of man.
The Bible teaches, ever since sin entered this world after the fall of man, it corrupted our hearts. Therefore, our hearts are deceitful. We cannot trust our hearts because they are prone to sin. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” Other translations say it is beyond cure, such that it calls evil good and good evil.
Peter’s heart deceived him to believe that he did not want to be a stumbling block, but the issue was much greater, his actions negated salvation through Jesus alone. Eve’s heart deceived her to believe that it would give her knowledge of good and evil but the issue was much greater, her actions brought about the fall of man. So, do not let your heart deceive you, guard your heart, with the word of God. Train your thoughts and hearts with the knowledge of Jesus, the justification for all.
Our Inability to Do and Be Good
Third, we need Jesus’s justification because our works cannot change our inability to do good and be good.
Justification gives us a new nature.
In verses 15 and 16, in Paul’s direct conversation with Peter, the message is clear that the law was insufficient to justify anyone. Paul tells Peter that those who are Jews by birth always knew that the law was insufficient to justify them.
I think the thrust of Paul’s argument here is the fact that they were born into the law, and they were given the Torah and Jewish moral, ethical, and judicial laws, but this law only fixes the outside, the inside remained the way they were born, sinners and short of the glory of God. The Gospel of John 1:16 says, “For from his [Jesus’s] fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” One merely exposed our sins, the others actually dealt with our sins.
In verse 15, Paul calls Gentiles sinners because they were not born into the Jewish religion, therefore, they did not know the law so they lived lawless, immoral, and ungodly lives, and were commonly referred to as Gentile sinners. Paul’s point is this, Jews were privileged to have the law by the grace of God to give them a moral compass and to develop a society based on the law.
However now that Gentiles, previously outsiders and sinners have placed their faith in Jesus, they have a privileged position in the house of God along with Jewish Christians because both Jews and Gentiles are justified by faith in Jesus and not anything else.
How does that apply to the contemporary church? If we were born in a Christian home, even a nominal Christian home, and if we receive any teaching about Christ and Christianity, do we have an advantage over those who never heard about Jesus and His Gospel?
We are carnal, meaning we are sinful. 24/7, we live in corrupt bodies in a corrupt world with corrupt minds and thoughts and hearts. Therefore, sometimes our good actions with good intentions can cause pain to other believers and cast doubts to their faith. But our actions should never make others feel inferior.
It does not matter whether he has tattoos, she has pink hair, he smokes, they do not go to church, etc. Our opinion and our justification do not make people Christians, but Jesus does. We do not go to church to be Christians; we go to church because we are Christians. We do not do good works to be Christians; we do good works because we are Christians.
A more literal translation of verse 15 reads, “We are Jews by nature and not sinners from the Gentiles.” The law was insufficient in creating a new nature. Only Jesus gives us a new nature and changes us from the inside out. The Fall corrupted everything, but when we receive the grace of Jesus, and when Jesus becomes our justification, he gives us a new nature to resist and fight the old nature.
If you are a Christian, you have been given a new nature. Do you allow your new nature to resist and fight your old nature? Do you submit to your corrupt mind, heart, and hands, and pronounce condemnation to self and others because condemnation says you are guilty, you are evil, you are bad? Or do you allow Jesus, the justification for all, to stand in opposition to what condemns you?
Justification says we are righteous and declares us not guilty. This is the only way we will forgive and accept each other in fellowship without partiality and prejudice.
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